Ajax Penumbra 1969
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From Robin Sloan, author of Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, the story of Mr. Penumbra's first trip to San Francisco - and of how he got entangled with the city's most unusual always-open enterprise....
It is August 1969. The Summer of Love is a fading memory. The streets of San Francisco pulse to the sounds of Led Zeppelin and Marvin Gaye. And of jackhammers: A futuristic pyramid of a skyscraper is rising a few blocks from City Lights bookstore and an unprecedented subway tunnel is being built under the bay. Meanwhile, south of the city, orchards are quickly giving way to a brand-new industry built on silicon.
But young Ajax Penumbra has not arrived in San Francisco looking for free love or a glimpse of the technological future. He is seeking a book: the single surviving copy of the Techne Tycheon, a mysterious volume that has brought and lost great fortune for anyone who has owned it. The last record of the book locates it in the San Francisco of more than a century earlier, and on that scant bit of evidence, Penumbra's university has dispatched him west to acquire it for their library. After a few weeks of rigorous hunting, Penumbra feels no closer to his goal than when he started. But late one night, after another day of dispiriting dead ends, he stumbles across a 24-hour bookstore, and the possibilities before him expand exponentially....
“That’s far out,” she says, nodding. “Maybe I’m not here either. Maybe you and me shouldn’t be here—together. Catch my drift?” “I believe so, but I do not—” “My pals are heading over to the Haight. Why don’t you boogie with us?” “I cannot, ah, boogie. That is—I cannot leave my post. Another time, perhaps.” She gives him a pitying smile. “Keep on trucking, then.” She sends another plume curling into the air and rejoins the crowd. Later, heading for the door, she casts one last glance in his
Library acquisitions staff. They are the long arm of the library, and the wellspring of its bibliographic wealth. You see them sometimes on the library’s upper floors, consulting with one another in the shadows, speaking quietly in strange languages, rubbing thoughtfully at strange scars. That summer, you become an Apprentice Acquisitions Officer, and begin what is a graduate program in all but degree. You are paid to read the classics, and also books that would be classics if any library other
“Please! I beg you. Call me Mo.” He clasps Penumbra’s hand with both of his together. “Welcome, welcome to the twenty-four-hour bookstore. I don’t suppose you read about us in Rolling Stone? …” “Ah—no. I do not—” Corvina interjects: “He’s looking for a very particular book, Mo.” “As are we all, Mr. Corvina, as are we all. Most don’t realize it yet. So on that count, our friend Ajax Penumbra is ahead.” “It is a very old book,” Penumbra says. “I have traced the most contemporaneous reference
EARTH table, speaking to one another quietly in German, gesturing up toward the tall shelves. Penumbra plants his palms on the wide desk. He is out of breath; cheeks flushed; shirt askew. He has come running from the library. Corvina regards him with a raised eyebrow and the rumor of a smile. “Welcome back.” “I—whew. Oh, goodness.” He takes a gulp of air. “I have a map!” Penumbra produces his treasure. It shows a city with two coastlines. One, the modern coast, is drawn smoothly; the other,
says. “He came from—where was it? San Diego, I believe. I do not think he intended to stay, but I offered him a post as my clerk, and, well. There he sits.” “You have both been very helpful.” “Yes, well. Mr. Corvina is quite engaged by your quest, you know. He told me we ought to help you however we can. I told him it was foolishness.” Stung again. “I am sorry that you feel that way, Mr. Al-Asmari.” This time, Mo suffers the honorific without complaint. “I have known people like you before,